IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to a disclaimer and a copyright notice.
European FlagEuropa
The European Commission


Innovation in Europe

Agriculture and Food
Information Society
Industrial Processes
Medicine and Health
New Products and Materials
Research and Society
Pure Science

Banner Innovation in Europe
Industrial Processes

The robot with a hidden agenda

Mechatronics, telecontrol and informatics have given birth to Palaiomation, an autonomous robot heralding more ambitious projects.
22 European partners - manufacturers, research centres and palaeontologists - have been conducting a vast multidisciplinary project which has resulted in the creation of an unusual robot: a dinosaur capable of walking about and reacting to stimuli from onlookers. This application for museums, which implements a whole range of sophisticated technologies, actually represents the first stage of an ambitious industrial initiative: the creation of autonomous vehicles capable of moving over particularly dangerous terrains, e.g. among the debris caused by earthquakes or in minefields.


A dinosaur wanders around the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Children ride on an iguanodon's back at an exhibition in Birmingham organised by the BBC (Tomorrow's World). A similar robot is found in the Crown Room of the ancient Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. These unusual presentations are the culmination of the first round of a robotic and cybernetic challenge involving the 22 partners participating in the Palaiomation project who, over the longer term, are pursuing a much more wide-ranging objective: the creation of robots that can be used on dangerous, devastated or contaminated terrains.

Demonstration phase
"This iguanodon is an embodiment of the technological demonstration phase which was necessary in order to place the project on a profitable footing, given the particularly extended time scale required for the development of the project," explains Vassilios Papantoniou, Director of the R&D Department of the Cybernetic Technology Lab (Brussels) and Secretary of the EARLR (European Association for Research in Legged Robots). "This 'spin off' application represents a launching pad, as it were, on which we are hoping to assemble the means to embark on our primary objective."

Thus, notwithstanding its current prowess, Palaiomation has a hidden agenda. But the robot-dinosaur itself cannot be dismissed as just a hair-brained stunt. The ever-increasing number of natural history museums and theme parks - which are attracting more and more visitors all over the world - represent a treasure trove of technological novelties. Since the 1980s, the United States and Japan have dominated the specialised automaton market and have developed a range of systems based on hydro-pneumatic technologies, the performance of which - in the absence of any competition - is still very limited and requires cumbersome infrastructures. Palaiomation, for its part, embodies a range of futuristic technologies - grounded in mechatronics, telecontrol and informatics - which have produced a fascinating interactive automaton which requires minimal infrastructure and is light and highly mobile. The four laboratories working together within the EARLR, along with the 18 other universities and museums, have successfully completed this cooperative research in the framework of the CRAFT/ Brite-EuRam technological incentive measures.


Palaeontology and microelectronics
The automaton's structural components, made of very light aluminium composite materials, have been designed exclusively using CAD techniques. Thanks to a laser scanner designed specially for the project, it has also been possible to mirror faithfully the articulations and muscular functions of the skeleton of Iguanodon Atherfieldensis at the Brussels Museum of Natural Sciences. Movement is controlled by means of microprocessors which send instructions to miniaturised power-operated systems. The Palaiomation is equipped with visual and ultrasonic sensors to ensure complete autonomy. The skin which covers it, and which was produced with the assistance of palaeontologists, follows the movements of its body in keeping with its musculature. As for the total costs involved, these have proved highly competitive, when compared with conventional hydro-pneumatic replicas.

"Initially," according to the Secretary of the EARLR, "the museum officials were sceptical, but they soon changed their minds when they saw the result. This product, which could be used for other types of robot, represents an interactive animation which the public find highly impressive."

Mine-clearing robots for booby-trapped areas
The ultimate objective of the partners in the association is to develop fully autonomous devices, equipped with legs rather than wheels and capable of moving with a very high degree of mobility over totally unstructured surfaces that are as dangerous as they are impracticable - such as minefields, areas strewn with debris following an earthquake, contaminated industrial zones, etc. "In order to work in these dangerous environments, we will need smart machines some 3.50 m long, with significant ground clearance, that are capable of moving at the same pace as a man, employing strides of about 60 centimetres."

The production of such machines, which are bound to be costly but which will be capable of providing valuable service in extreme situations, will require very high levels of technology. The levels of performance demanded in this case will far exceed those of the iguanodon.



Project Title:  
Paleontology science and robotics for extinct species replica animation - Palaiomation

Industrial and Materials Technologies - BRITE EURAM/ CRAFT

Contract Reference: BRE2-CT94 1541/CR 1651

CORDIS databaseFor more information on this project,
go to the Cordis database Record 1-2